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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   323
ing, the tip of its left wing had been cut off and the
piece was hanging by some_ wire. The plane, on landing,
hopped in a queer way; it jumped high, came down and
jumped again, and in this way hopped to the very end
of the airfield and came to a dead stop with its tail
raised up. The ambulances with the surgeons on the
footboards, several jeeps, and the whole of the waiting
crowd rushed towards the machine. Nobody rose out of
the cockpit.
They drew back the hood. Huddled in the seat in a
pool of blood lay Petrov. His head was sunk helplessly
on his breast. Strands of wet fair hair covered his face.
The surgeons and nurses unfastened the straps, removed
his parachute bag that was gashed by a shell splinter,
carefully raised the motionless body and laid it on the
ground. The airman was wounded in the leg and arm.
Dark patches spread quickly over his blue overalls.
Petrov was given first aid and placed on a stretcher.
As he was being lifted into the ambulance he opened his
eyes. He whispered something, but so faintly that he
could not be heard. The colonel bent over him.
"Where's Meresyev?" the wounded man inquired.
"Hasn't landed yet."
The stretcher was lifted again, but the wounded
man vigorously rolled his head and even tried to get
out.
"Wait!" he said. "Don't take me away. I don't want
to go. I'll wait for Meresyev. He saved my life!"
The airman protested so vigorously, threatening to tear
off his bandages, that the colonel waved his hand and
turning his head away said through clenched teeth:
"All right. Leave him alone. He won't die. Meresyev
has only enough fuel left for not more than one minute."
The colonel glued his eyes to his stop-watch and saw
the red second hand tick round its circle. Everybody else
was gazing at the grey wood, over the top of which the
last plane was expected to appear. Ears were strained to
the utmost, but except for the distant rumble of gun-fire
and the muffled tapping of a woodpecker near by, nothing
was heard.
How long a minute drags sometimes!